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EU summit shows no progress in Constitution debates

The first day of a European summit, which opened in Brussels Thursday, showed no signs of progress in breaking the deadlock towards a new EU Constitution.

"We have no news to announce," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference late Thursday. "There is a broad political will, but it must transform into concrete decisions." Germany, which holds the EU presidency, has developed proposals for the 27-member body to reach a consensus through a simplified version of the draft Constitution. The previous treaty establishing the Constitution was signed in Rome in 2004 and was in the process of ratification, but France and the Netherlands refused to ratify it following referendums.

This provoked some countries to postpone ratification of the document, which would have come into effect in November 2006. So far 18 member states have ratified the treaty either at parliamentary level or by referendum. Poland is one of the key opponents to the current draft of the constitutional treaty. Poland objects to a new method proposed for decision making known as the "double majority", which Warsaw says weakens the positions of average-sized countries in favor of the UK, France, and Germany.

The draft treaty allows legislation to be passed if 55% of EU nations representing 65% of the EU population support a measure. Any legislative initiative could be blocked by at least four EU members. Poland, the sixth largest EU member, has proposed using the square root of a member state's population to calculate the number of votes it will wield. This would give Poland six votes and Germany, the population leader, nine. In an attempt to find a compromise, France called for a review of the proposed voting system so that it better satisfies Poland's interests. "President Sarkozy perfectly understands Poland's problem," a French president's spokesman said. "It seems that the Poles are mostly concerned over the gap with large-size countries."

"There are many mechanisms that can supplement each other or be combined in order to bridge this gap," the spokesman said. "The square root, or death," the Poles say, emphasizing their fears that the new voting system would allow old EU members to dictate their interests to the newcomers from Eastern Europe, such as Poland. Experts believe that Poland's stubbornness could seriously undermine the EU's ability to deal with the challenges of such pressing issues as relations with Russia, climate change, energy supplies, and globalization. Warsaw has already blocked a new long-term Russia-EU partnership agreement over Moscow's meat import embargo, which Poland considers a political move. Failure to find a compromise at the current talks, which are continuing through Friday, would be a serious setback for the European Union, as it will deepen the division within the bloc. (